The other day I compiled a list of the number of residential museums and historic homes Roberta and me, or myself solo, have visited in our region. Seeing more than two-dozen, pride swelled my chest.
Barton (1821-1912), we learned, was born in Massachusetts. The youngest of five children, she loved reading books and complied a small library’s worth collection. She came to Washington in 1855. Elizabeth Brown Pryor notes there were two reasons.
Barton wrote in her diary, “I wanted the mild air for my throat.” She believed Washington was the furthest point south an unescorted woman could go with propriety.
At other times Barton maintained the decision was influenced by her interest in politics or the presence of the Library of Congress. She had also been disappointed after she was overlooked. A man was chosen to head a free school in New Jersey instead of her. Barton had opened the school.
Barton began working in the Patent Office, a first for a woman in terms of a position with equal pay to a man. During the Civil War, she helped for the care of injured soldiers. At the Battle of Antietam, she escaped injury or death when a bullet cut through her dress. She became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
At war’s end, Barton opened an office in Washington at 437 Seventh Street. Several years ago, this hidden history was discovered. A museum now tells the story there of the Missing Soldiers. Barton and her staffed helped find more than 20,000 soldiers.
After working with the likes of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, Barton founded and served as President of the new Red Cross. Worn down from years of service and sacrifice, Barton retired in 1907. She chose a quiet spot about five miles from Georgetown, with a commanding view of the Potomac River. She died at her home there in 1912.
We learned about how the Red Cross helped provide relief during the Johnstown Flood in 1889, one that killed more 2,000 people. Barton’s organization built five long wooden warehouses as part of the assistance effort. A couple of years later, the Baltzley Brothers built for Barton, a new office and storage area in Glen Echo, Modeling it after the Johnstown warehouses.
We also learned about the Baltzley Brothers, Edwin and Edward. Like many others big and after, they came to Washington to pursue something bigger. After working in political circles, and making a small fortune from inventions, they tapped into the growing appeal of cooler leafy suburbs in Maryland and the National Chautauqua Movement. The brothers sold residential lots outside of the city and named them Glen Echo Heights. Business boomed when a trolley line, the Glen Echo Railroad Company, was established.
In 1891, the Baltzley Brothers wooed Clara Barton and then built her a new headquarters/warehouse on the western fringe of their new community, a higher spot separated by a rocky creek. They patterned it after the Johnstown warehouses. A Victorian granite façade was added, giving the building a unique look (Richard Cook, "A History of Glen Echo").
In 1975, the property was donated to the National Park Service. This marked the first time they dedicated a site to the memory of a woman.
Our trip turned out to be a two-fer, with the 35th Annual Washington Folk Festival taking place at Glen Echo Park. Seven stages hosted performers and workshops in the park’s lovely setting. Interpretive markers tell some of the park's story. Easy to miss, an historical plaque covers a sit-in protest in 1960.
The combination of the house and the park, the history and issues they cover, the lovely natural setting, and the historical marking make Glen Echo Park a very special place.